How popular is the baby name Kay in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Use the popularity graph and data table below to find out! Plus, see all the blog posts that mention the name Kay.

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Popularity of the baby name Kay

Posts that mention the name Kay

What popularized the baby name Vonda in the mid-1960s?

Vonda Kay Van Dyke, Miss America 1965
Vonda Kay Van Dyke

According to the U.S. baby name data, Vonda saw a big spike in usage in mid-1960s:

  • 1967: 321 baby girls named Vonda [rank: 529th]
  • 1966: 664 baby girls named Vonda [rank: 349th]
  • 1965: 1,093 baby girls named Vonda [rank: 261st]
  • 1964: 602 baby girls named Vonda [rank: 399th]
  • 1963: 180 baby girls named Vonda [rank: 772nd]


Because of Vonda Kay Van Dyke, who was crowned Miss America 1965 at the conclusion of the televised pageant held in Atlantic City in September of 1964.

Van Dyke — who represented the state of Arizona — was the very first Miss America contestant to perform ventriloquism during the talent portion of the competition.

Van Dyke taught herself ventriloquism as a child and soon after found herself sharing billing with Wayne Newton. “Wayne and I did quite a few shows before he hit it big and moved on to Vegas,” she recalls.

Notably, Vonda Van Dyke is also the only Miss America to have been voted Miss Congeniality by the other delegates.

After her reign ended, Vonda enjoyed “an 18-year showbiz career, appearing with Jack Benny and Victor Borge.” She also married and had one child, a girl named Vandy.

Over the years, Vonda has met a several of her namesakes:

I ask them, “Where did you get your name?” One said, “Oh, it’s so embarrassing. I got it from a Miss America.” I stuck out my hand and said, “How do you do?”

What are your thoughts on the name Vonda?


Image: Adapted from Miss America of 1965 Vonda Kay Van Dyke at a fabric store in Los Angeles, Calif. by Los Angeles Times under CC BY 4.0.

What popularized the baby name Kayleigh in the 1980s?

The Marillion single "Kayleigh" (1985)
“Kayleigh” single

According to the U.S. baby name data, the name Kayleigh became very popular all of a sudden in the mid-1980s:

  • 1987: 537 baby girls named Kayleigh [rank: 415th]
  • 1986: 748 baby girls named Kayleigh [rank: 321st]
  • 1985: 211 baby girls named Kayleigh [rank: 794th]
  • 1984: 7 baby girls named Kayleigh [debut]
  • 1983: unlisted
  • 1982: unlisted

Kayleigh was the fastest-rising baby name of 1985, in fact.

Graph of the usage of the baby name Kayleigh in the U.S. since 1880.
Usage of the baby name Kayleigh

What made it so trendy?

The song “Kayleigh” (1985) by British rock band Marillion.

Several of the band’s singles had done well in the UK up to that point, but the rock ballad “Kayleigh” was their first (and, so far, only) song to reach the U.S. Hot 100, peaking at #74 in late October, 1985.

The lead singer of the band had written the song with several past girlfriends in mind, but the name of the song was inspired by one woman in particular. He explained:

I’d wanted to write a song about a girlfriend I’d split up with, whose name was Kay. Which of course we couldn’t do. So we added her middle name, Lee, and it became Kayleigh instead. […] But it wasn’t just about Kay, it was inspired by three or four different people in my life.

Interestingly, the entire Kaylee name-group was already on the rise before the song was released in mid-1985. For instance, the most popular spelling of the name, Kaylee — which ultimately peaked at 26th in 2009 — jumped well into the top 1,000 (824th) in 1984. The same year, the spelling Kaylie was the 25th-fastest rising girl name (relatively speaking), and girl-name debuts included Caylie, Caleigh, Cayley, Kailie, and Cailey — not to mention Kayleigh itself.

So the song didn’t exactly kick things off. No doubt it contributed to the name’s trendiness, though. It does seem to have given a discernible boost to the spellings Kaleigh, Kalee, Kalie, Kaeleigh, and Kaileigh. And it may have been behind the debut of Cayleigh in 1986.

So…why was the Kaylee name-group already picking up stream in 1984? I don’t know for certain, but I can point to a couple of possible contributing factors:

  • The trendiness of Kayla in the early ’80s, due largely to a soap opera character: Kayla Brady from Days of Our Lives.
  • The trendiness of Ashley in the early ’80s, due in part to another soap opera character: Ashley Abbott from The Young and the Restless.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Kayleigh? (Do you like this spelling, or do you prefer one of the other spellings?)


P.S. Marillion’s 2nd-biggest song, “Lavender” (1985) — which was the track right after “Kayleigh” on the Misplaced Childhood album — may have given the baby name Lavender a nudge in the mid-’80s.

P.P.S. The band’s name, pronounced mar-IH-lee-un, was based on the title of the novel The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Where did the baby name Nyoka come from in 1941?

The character Nyoka from "Perils of Nyoka" (1942)
Nyoka from “Perils of Nyoka” (1942)

The curious name Nyoka (pronounced nye-OH-kah) first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1941. Usage of the name peaked two years later:

  • 1946: 20 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1945: 26 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1944: 28 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1943: 60 baby girls named Nyoka [peak: ranked 1,034th]
  • 1942: 45 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1941: 5 baby girls named Nyoka [debut]
  • 1940: unlisted
  • 1939: unlisted

Where did this one come from? A character named Nyoka who appeared in two 15-part movie serials in the early ’40s. In the first serial, Jungle Girl (1941), Nyoka was played by Frances Gifford. In the second serial, Perils of Nyoka (1942), she was played by Kay Aldridge.

The serials were based (very loosely) upon an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel from a decade earlier called Jungle Girl. In the book, the titular jungle girl was named Fou-tan, not Nyoka.

The character also inspired a comic book series called Nyoka the Jungle Girl. Issue #1 came out in 1942.

What are your thoughts on the name Nyoka?

Where did the baby name Tondalaya come from in 1955?

Leon Gilbert with children Leon and Tondalaya (1955)
Leon Gilbert with children Leon and Tondalaya

The sudden appearance of Tondalaya in the SSA’s baby name data in the mid-1950s had me stumped for a long time.

  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: 11 baby girls named Tondalaya [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: unlisted

Why? Because “Tondalaya” was so suspiciously close to “Tondelayo,” the name of a character from the 1942 movie* White Cargo. The character was a mixed-race African character played by Hedy Lamarr.

tandelayo, hedy lamarr
(from the White Cargo trailer)

But the spelling didn’t match, and the timing was way off.

Finally, years later, I happened to find the link between these two things: a photo in a 1955 issue of Jet magazine that featured an 11-year-old girl named Tondalaya. Here’s what the caption said:

Paroled after five years imprisonment for disobeying Army orders while a lieutenant in Korea, Leon A. Gilbert is reunited with his wife, Kay, son Leon, and daughter Tondalaya at Los Angeles’ International Airport.

(Further research revealed that her name was actually spelled “Tondalayo.”)

So that solved the mystery of the name, but…who was Leon Gilbert?

Up until mid-1950, he was a decorated WWII veteran serving with the 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea.

But on July 31, he refused an order and was arrested on the spot.

Seems like an appropriate outcome for a disobedient soldier during wartime…until you consider that the 24th was an all-black unit, that the 24th’s commanders were all white, and that this particular order amounted to a multi-man suicide mission. (The order would have had Gilbert leading about a dozen men back to a location that had been abandoned due to heavy enemy fire.)

Leon Gilbert was court-martialed. At the trial, which lasted about four hours, no witnesses were called on Gilbert’s behalf, medical reports indicating that he suffered from acute stress reaction were ignored, and the defense attorney didn’t bother to make a closing statement. Leon Gilbert was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Back home, the case was being followed closely by the press — particularly by the black press. The sentence angered many Americans, and “petitions calling for [Gilbert’s] freedom were sent to Washington from around the country.”

An investigation carried out by NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall found that Gilbert was one of “many blacks and no white troops who had been charged with misconduct in the presence of the enemy.” He also said that “[i]t seems apparent that some of [the black soldiers] are being made scapegoats for the failures of higher personnel.”

In late November, President Harry Truman commuted the death sentence to 20 years in prison.

Ultimately — as mentioned in the photo caption — Leon Gilbert served five years in a military prison before he was released on parole in 1955.

*The movie was based on play of the same name from the 1920s. In the play, the character’s name was spelled “Tondeleyo.” The play was based on the novel Hell’s Playground (1912) by Ida Vera Simonton, but Tondeleyo did not appear in the novel. Playwright Leon Gordon created (and named) Tondeleyo by combining the attributes/histories of two of the book’s female characters, Ndio and Elinda.


Image: © 1955 Jet